01 November 1997

BRITAIN’S LARGEST PRIVATE COMPANY, Littlewoods, has allied with the Burton Group in a joint home shopping venture that will link Burton’s high street fashion brands to Littlewoods’ mail order catalogues for at least ten years. The pools-to-mail order group is to pay £15m for a 35% stake in the joint company (Burton holding the rest of the shares) and aims to extend the concept to the non-fashion retail sector. Littlewoods is also investigating the possibilities of harnessing digital TV for home shopping as well as 'sharing Burton’s Internet expertise'. Says Littlewoods chair James Ross: 'There is going to be much greater convergence of high street and home shopping. This is about bringing the high street into the home.' The joint venture goes live in autumn 1998 with the launch of individual catalogues for each of Burton’s high street brands (including Top Shop, Dorothy Perkins and Principles) as well as its direct operations, Hawkshead and Racing Green. 'This gives us access to Littlewoods database of 3.2m known home shoppers to add to our database of 2.7m active storecard accounts and 500,000 active home shopping accounts', says Burton. [It also offers the best explanation yet as to why Burton unloaded its Innovations business to GUS at an apparent loss of £24m [this issue, page 154] - the gizmo-laden catalogue just didn’t fit the High Street orientation of the new venture.] At the same press conference Littlewoods denied any intention to sell its ailing pools business but said it 'may well' bid to run the National Lottery when Camelot’s licence expires in 2001.